Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Doomed Attempt To Fend Off The Inevitable

Right, given that a jury in Cardiff have just ruled that it's legal to beat anyone you catch thieving diesel off you until you break both their legs, could we - just for once - forego the customary boo-hoo-woe-is-us circlejerk this time?

I realise that this is the kind of issue that generally provokes panic-stricken sobs of horror at the realisation that yes, it is against the law to smash fuck out of people even if they are stealing from you, and that you might well wind up being arrested and put on trial for it, even if you are found not guilty.  

Well, quail in terror no longer, for what we have here is a great example of the law in action - man pleads self-defence, man walks free.

I know that we all have those mad relatives and work colleagues who are forever blurting out sentences along the lines of  

"See if (theoretical criminal) ever tried to (commit hypothetical offence) well I'd just (alarmingly specific and detailed description of vicious and life-threatening assault)...  And I bet it would be ME who would go to jail..."

...but there's a reason why those folk don't draft policy, or practice law.  I suspect that it's mainly because the type of human being capable of working himself up to that level of blind rage via merely thinking about the concept of injustice is probably more likely to initiate serious assaults than he is to be the victim of one. 

So let's quickly dispense with a few likely complaints here that detract from the obvious legal message this case delivers, which is that it's fine to beat thieves to within an inch of their lives, if you feel adequately threatened:

The big whinge I'm seeing is that our Have-a-Go Hero should never have wound up in court in the first place.  A good number of HAG Heros don't but frankly, the severity of the injuries in this case were legally problematic on proportionality.

What I mean is, you're fine to clobber somebody with a cricket bat if they back you into a corner and threaten you with a knife, for instance, but you're going to have problems if you then chase them down the street for half a mile and hammer them to a pulp.

The first is self-defence; the latter is a serious assault, and possibly attempted murder.

Thankfully, we have places where people can go to work out difficult legal issues like proportionality, and these places are called "courts".  This case was heard by a jury of the accused's peers under our current, well-functioning law, and he was acquitted.  Hooray for justice!

All told, I think this system usually works quite well, but a lot of folk want to see the law on self-defence strengthened further and plenty of politicians have similar thoughts.  I think enacting this kind of thing could have interesting consequences for these people if e.g. one of their daughters is found dead with a knife in her back in a house with three blokes who insist she just went crazy and attacked them all but then, I'm not always right.

I've also seen a few people bleating because the thieves only received fines but really, if you think that having to be lifted onto the toilet every time you need to take a dump for two months because you've got three broken limbs is getting off lightly for syphoning somebody else's fuel, you really need to cut down on the coffee and the steroids.  

And so, this is yet another one of those calm-the-hell-down posts that I keep pumping out, more in hope than in expectation.  They never seem to work, mind.


Bruschettaboy said...

My suggestion that the "should never have come to court, give him a medal" crowd's proposals on self-defence, since they would have the effect of allowing you to murder anyone you could drag into your house, should be called "Reggie's Law", never got off the ground.

flyingrodent said...

I entirely agree, though I've always thought it's weird that the enthusiasm for self-defence killings is as furious as it is.

You'd think that its most ardent fans would actually oppose it on grounds of self-interest, given they're surely in a high-risk group of falling victim to fraudulent claims of self-defence.

For example, I'd say that it's the type of person who's prone to fits of blazing outrage because they're not allowed to execute anyone they find nicking off out a window with their telly who are most at risk of an exasperated family member sticking a fork through their eye during a long Boxing Day or beating them to death with their amateur golf trophy, then claiming self-defence.

Anonymous said...

Surely it's 'Kenneth Noye's Law', since it's the very legal defence which Noye used in 1985 in order to secure an acquittal when accused of murdering DC John Fordham?

Chris Williams